Aim In the Indo-Pacific, the mass of islands of the Indonesian archipelago constitute a major biogeographical barrier (the Indo-Pacific Barrier, IPB) separating the Pacific and Indian oceans. Evidence for other, more localized barriers include high rates of endemism at the Marquesas and other isolated peripheral islands in the Pacific. Here we use mitochondrial-sequence comparisons to evaluate the efficacy of biogeographical barriers on populations of the snappers Lutjanus kasmira and Lutjanus fulvus across their natural ranges. Location Pacific and Indian oceans. Methods Mitochondrial cytochrome b sequence data were obtained from 370 individuals of L. kasmira and 203 individuals of L. fulvus collected from across each species’ range. Allele frequency data for two nuclear introns were collected from L. kasmira. Phylogenetic and population-level analyses were used to determine patterns of population structure in these species and to identify barriers to dispersal. Results Lutjanus kasmira lacks genetic structure across the IPB and throughout 12,000 km of its central Indo-Pacific range. In contrast, L. fulvus demonstrates high levels of population structure at all geographical scales. In both species, highly significant population structure results primarily from the phylogenetic distinctiveness of their Marquesas Islands populations (L. kasmira, d = 0.50–0.53%; L. fulvus, d = 0.87–1.50%). Coalescence analyses of the L. kasmira data indicate that populations at opposite ends of its range (western Indian Ocean and the Marquesas) are the oldest. Coalescence analyses for L. fulvus are less robust but also indicate colonization from the Indian to the Pacific Ocean. Main conclusions The IPB does not act as a biogeographical barrier to L. kasmira, and, in L. fulvus, its effects are no stronger than isolating mechanisms elsewhere. Both species demonstrate a strong genetic break at the Marquesas. Population divergence and high endemism in that archipelago may be a product of geographical isolation enhanced by oceanographic currents that limit gene flow to and from those islands, and adaptation to unusual ecological conditions. Lutjanus kasmira shows evidence of Pleistocene population expansion throughout the Indo-central Pacific that originated in the western Indian Ocean rather than the Marquesas, further demonstrating a strong barrier at the latter location.
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